In the winter of 2001, Higgins was just another boarding-school student in Melbourne, preparing to graduate and planning her upcoming vacation, when she found out that she'd won a songwriting contest sponsored by one of Australia's biggest radio stations. When she got the call from Triple J, it took a moment for Higgins to remember that, a few months earlier, her sister had asked for permission to submit a demo Higgins had cut when she was 15; she'd absently agreed, not taking any of it seriously. The song, "All for Believing," was suddenly set for a race up the Australian pop chart.
Nevertheless, with nothing but a backpack and a guitar she had nicknamed Ranger (you can get away with that if you're Aussie), Higgins passed on hitting the studio immediately and, with her friend, headed for England. There, she crashed on her brother's floor for two months before hitting the continental mainland, where she forgot Ranger on a Spanish train, pashed (Aussie for made out with) a lovely French boy she met under the Eiffel Tower, and had her picture snapped while she was body-sandwiched between some dodgy Italians.
"We had this one night in Venice at this youth-hostel bar," she says. "And this bar was famous allegedly famous all over the world for just being crazy. We went there skeptically because of its reputation and were pretty much like 'Show us what you got.' Before we knew it, we were literally having liquor poured down our throats and dancing on table tops."
The five-month experience helped Higgins put life in perspective and brought a little gravity to her situation back home. "I was gathering so much information, and I was feeling so inspired by everywhere I went and everything I experienced, I started feeling I really needed an outlet to write songs," she says. "But then when I did get back to Australia, I had complete writer's block because I had too much inspiration"
After some recovery time in Melbourne, Higgins took her material to Los Angeles, where producer John Porter (Elvis Costello, Ryan Adams) helped her to tamp down some of the melodramatic flourishes that were distracting from her quirky, surprisingly complicated lyrics. Now, on her debut full-length, The Sound of White, Higgins comes across as an eloquent songwriter with a voice that belies her youth and inexperience. Her work deals with the familiar subjects of love and heartache, but it reveals a careful study of emotional weakness and the inability to communicate, especially on songs such as "Don't Ever" and "The Special Two." Her singing preserves the wide, Melbourne vowels of her accent, and her piano parts pay homage more to jazz than to contemporary pop. Altogether, it's the sound of Australia's next pop goddess, membership pending.
Of course, you won't get Higgins to admit that she's come into her own as an artist. "It's just something inherent in Australians, that kind of modesty," she says, laughing. "Everyone can think that you're great, but you can't think you're great and even if we do get too big for ourselves, Australians just cut you right down to size."